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Graduate-Level Writing Tips: Definitions, Do’s and Don’ts

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Debra Davenport, PhD

In your communication master’s program, you will be expected to demonstrate well-honed writing skills in your essays. Your courses will require proficiency in real-world business communications, as well as scholarly writing and the use of APA formatting.

Real-world written business communications may include:

  • Executive summaries
  • News releases
  • Media advisories
  • Company fact sheets
  • Business reports

Academic papers are those you will write in your courses that:

  • Review and discuss the scholarly literature
  • Synthesize theories, models and course readings
  • Present critical analysis, research and scholarly insight in an objective manner
  • Are formatted according to APA standards
  • Are written in the scholarly voice

What Is the Scholarly Voice?

Essentially, the scholarly voice is unbiased, high-level and evidence-based writing that reflects the epitome of good grammar, syntax and tone. Follow the do’s and don’ts below to excel at this format in your graduate school essays.

Scholarly Resources:

  • https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/683/1/
  • http://blog.apastyle.org/
  • http://academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter/scholarlyvoice
  • http://academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter/scholarlyvoice/tone

The “Do’s” of Scholarly Writing

1. Use proper syntax. Syntax is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language.” Syntax is an important aspect of writing that helps to ensure clarity. Incorrect syntax often results in sentences and paragraphs that do not make sense, and this can pose serious perceptual issues for professional communicators. See this article for a number of examples.

2. Follow the rules of punctuation. Common errors include incorrect placement of quotation marks and erroneous use of the semicolon. As an example, note that quotation marks follow periods and commas, (“The sky is blue.”)

3. Include references, citations and /or footnotes, no matter what kind of document you’re writing. Taking the time to locate sources that substantiate your statements demonstrate your proficiency as a scholar-practitioner and your commitment to excellence. Citations are required in your academic papers, but clients also appreciate this attention to detail. When pitching a project or campaign, the inclusion of reputable sources will support your recommendations and boost your own credibility.

4. Proofread and edit your work. Many errors are missed during the first proofread; be prepared to review your work multiple times.

The “Don’ts” in Scholarly Writing

1. Don’t write in the second person narrative. The second person voice is typically used in articles like this one, where the writer is intending to inform and instruct. According to WritingCommons.org , “writing from the second person point of view can weaken the effectiveness of the writing in research and argument papers. Using second person can make the work sound as if the writer is giving directions or offering advice to his or her readers, rather than informing [them].”

Here is a comparison of second and third person perspectives from WritingCommons.org:

  • Weak: You should read the statistics about the number of suicides that happen to your average victim of bullying! (2nd person)
  • Stronger: The statistics from a variety of research reports indicate that the suicide rate is high among victims of bullying; they are under so much psychological pressure that they may resort to taking their own lives. (3rd person)

2. Don’t rely on software to correct your writing. Certainly, tools such as spell check, grammar check and grammarly have some benefit, but they cannot replace firsthand knowledge and mastery of proper writing. I recall one particular paper I received several years ago that was, quite literally, gibberish. When I inquired about the content of the student’s paper, she replied, “Well, I used grammar check!”

Don’t hesitate to seek writing coaching if you have questions or concerns about any aspect of good writing. As graduate students in a masters-level communication program, writing excellence should be a top priority.

By taking an informed and proactive approach to your writing, you will strengthen your academic performance, hone your professional and communication skills and enhance your career.

Dr. Debra Davenport is an online faculty member for Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.

Find out more about what you can do with a MS in Communication from Purdue University. Call us today at 877-497-5851 to speak to an admissions advisor, or request more information .

*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.

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APA Writing Guide: Formatting for Graduate Students

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Writing Center

The Liberty University Writing Center is available to provide writing coaching to students. Residential students should contact the  On-Campus Writing Center  for assistance. Online students should contact the  Online Writing Center  for assistance.

General Rules

Liberty University has determined that graduate students will use APA 7’s formatting guidelines for professional papers. To assist you, Liberty University's Writing Center provides a template paper and a  sample paper .

For professional papers, the following four sections are required: 

  • Title Page with Running Head
  • Abstract with Keywords
  • Reference List

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you format your paper:

  • Fonts  - LU recommends that papers be typed in 12-point Times New Roman or 11-point Calibri fonts.  
  • Use only one space at the end of each sentence in the body of your paper.
  • In general, APA papers should be double spaced throughout. A list of exceptions can be found here.
  • To make sure that your paper is double spaced throughout,  select the text ,  right click , select ' Paragraph ,' and look under the section ' Line Spacing ' as shown below:

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  • Margins/Alignment  - Your paper should use 1-inch margins on standard-sized paper (8.5' X 11'). Make sure that you use  Align Left  (CTRL + L) on the paper, except for the title page.  
  •   Indentation – The first sentence in each new paragraph in the body of the paper should be indented a half inch. The abstract, however, should not be indented. References use hanging indentation .  
  • Headings:   Please note that all headings are in title case. Level 1 headings should be centered (and in bold), and Level 2 and 3 headings should be left-aligned (and in bold or bold italic, respectively). Level 4 and 5 headings are indented like regular paragraphs. An example of formatting headings in a paper is available here

Title Page: When setting up the professional title page, please note the following elements should be present on the page:

  • There is no limit to the number of words in the title.
  • Add an extra blank double-spaced line between the title and author’s name.
  • Name of each author (centered)
  • Name of department and institution/affiliation (centered)
  • Place the author note in the bottom half of the title page. Center and bold the label “Author Note.” Align the paragraphs of the author note to the left. For an example, see the LU Writing Center template for graduate students here .
  • Page number in top right corner of the header, starting with page 1 on the title page
  • The running head is an abbreviated version of the title of your paper (or the full title if the title is already short).
  • Type the running head in all-capital letters.
  • Ensure the running head is no more than 50 characters, including spaces and punctuation.
  • The running head appears in the same format on every page, including the first page.
  • Do not use the label “Running head:” before the running head.
  • Align the running head to the left margin of the page header, across from the right-aligned page number.

Abstract Page: The abstract page includes the abstract and related keywords.

The abstract is a brief but comprehensive summary of your paper. Here are guidelines for formatting the abstract:

  • It should be the second page of a professional (graduate level) paper.
  • The first line should say “Abstract” centered and in bold.
  • The abstract should start one line below the section label.
  • It should be a single paragraph and should not be indented.
  • It should not exceed 250 words.

Keywords are used for indexing in databases and as search terms. Your keywords should capture the most important aspects of your paper in three to five words, phrases, or acronyms. Here are formatting guidelines:

  • Label “ Keywords ” one line below the abstract, indented and in italics (not bolded).
  • The keywords should be written on the same line as and one space after the label “ Keywords ”.
  • The keywords should be lowercase (but capitalize proper nouns) and not italic or bold.
  • Each keyword should be separated by a comma and a space and followed by a colon.
  • There should be no ending punctuation.
  • << Previous: Formatting for Undergraduates
  • Next: In-text Citations >>
  • Last Updated: Aug 29, 2023 11:29 AM
  • URL: https://libguides.liberty.edu/APAguide

Graduate School Papers and You

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Graduate study is all about writing, as the thesis or dissertation is the ticket to graduation. However, lots of writing occurs well before the thesis and dissertation are begun. Most graduate courses require students to write term papers . Many beginning graduate students are accustomed to writing papers and approach them in ways similar to undergraduate papers. As students advance and near the end of their coursework, they often look ahead towards the next task (such as preparing for comprehensive exams ) and may begin to resent writing papers, feeling that they have already proven themselves as competent students. Both of these approaches are misguided. Papers are your opportunity to advance your own scholarly work and receive guidance to enhance your competence.

Take Advantage of Term Papers

How do you take advantage of papers? Be thoughtful. Choose your topic carefully. Each paper you write should do double duty — complete a course requirement and further your own development. Your paper topic should meet the course requirements, but it should also relate to your own scholarly interests. Review an area of literature related to your interests. Or you might examine a topic that you are interested in but unsure whether it is complex enough to study for your dissertation. Writing a term paper about the topic will help you determine if the topic is broad and deep enough to fulfill a large project and will also help you determine if it will sustain your interest. Term papers offer a place for you to test ideas but also to make progress on your current research interests.

Double Duty

Each assignment you write should do double duty: help you advance your own scholarly agenda and get feedback from a faculty member. Papers are opportunities to get feedback about your ideas and writing style. Faculty can help you improve your writing and help you learn how to think like a scholar. Take advantage of this opportunity and don't simply seek to finish.

That said, take care in how you plan and construct your papers. Attend to ethical guidelines of writing. Writing the same paper over and over or submitting the same paper for more than one assignment is unethical and will get you into a great deal of trouble. Instead, the ethical approach is to use each paper as an opportunity to fill in a gap in your knowledge.

Consider a student in developmental psychology who is interested in adolescents who engage in risky behaviors such as drinking and drug use. While enrolled in a course in neuroscience, the student might examine how brain development influences risky behavior. In a course on cognitive development, the student might examine the role of cognition in risky behavior. A personality course might push the student to look at personality characteristics that influence risk behavior. In this way, the student advances his or her scholarly knowledge while completing course requirements. The student, therefore, should be examining multiple aspects of his or her general research topic. Will this work for you? At least some of the time. It will be better in some courses than others, but, regardless, it is worth a try.

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How to Write Excellent Graduate-Level Papers

“How to Write Excellent Graduate-Level Papers” brought to you by the Student Academic Success Center (SASC) at UNE.

Becoming a better writer – the process

Breaking a writing project down into phases helps with motivation as well as managing your time and workload effectively. The phases of the process – prewriting, drafting, revision, and editing – are described below. Each step allows you to focus your energy in a particular way, with it all adding up to a more thoughtful, clear piece of writing.

The phases don’t have to be done in a set, linear order, if that’s not effective for you. If you like to write some rough draft paragraphs first, then go back and do a post-draft outline or revise those paragraphs before continuing, that’s fine. The key is to make sure each part of the process is done thoroughly before you consider your paper finished.

The Writing Process

Let’s start with using prewriting to get the process rolling:

Using various prewriting strategies can help you avoid procrastinating and start a draft on the right track. You aren’t under pressure to develop a paper yet – this is about unlocking the flow of ideas. Play around with some of these strategies to find ones that work best for you:

  • Tap into your curiosity

When you’re faced with an assignment, spend some time simply wondering about the topic. What intrigues you? Why should you and others in your profession care about it? Come up with a couple of relevant questions that you want to explore. Then consider which questions are most meaningful to you personally and professionally—and why? This can be done on paper, in conversation with someone else, or internally.

  • Relate the assignment to your profession

Think about why the assignment is important to your field of study and work as a health professional, a social worker, an educator, etc. Making your assignment as personally and professionally relevant as possible helps with generating the motivation to start writing and keeping the momentum through the process. View this as an opportunity to learn useful information.

  • Use the assignment itself as an outline

Copy the assignment and paste it into a new document. Break it apart visually by adding line spaces and/or tabs. This will help you more easily identify key concepts which need to be explained and verbs that indicate critical thinking is required (e.g., analyze, compare, evaluate). Create a rough outline using parts of the assignment as headings for different sections of the paper.

Similarly, you could annotate the assignment by marking up the key words and concepts and making little notes in the margins about what to add or how sections or ideas might tie together.

  • Leverage what you already know, and then research with a purpose

Another very helpful strategy is to identify key concepts in the assignment description, then brainstorm what you already know about them based on the class readings or videos. Next, make a list of questions you still have about the concepts and overall topic. These will help drive the additional research needed to fill in your gaps of knowledge and locate credible evidence to support your explanations.

Having those questions makes researching more efficient because you have a purpose for reading: you’re looking for pieces of information rather than simply reading articles.

Read more: Faculty Spotlight: Lori Rand, Writing Specialist at SASC

The drafting phase involves determining your focus and starting to develop paragraph ideas within a structure. Keep a copy of the assignment on your draft as you write. Clarify the point of your paper – what is the main question that the assignment asking you to answer?

Think of a draft as packaging ideas into paragraphs that all relate to the paper’s main focus, as summed up in the thesis statement. For clarity, try to keep each paragraph focused on one idea at a time. However, because this phase is about getting thoughts down, and thoughts often jump around, drafting tends to be messy. That’s okay! The next step, revision, is where you really improve the writing.

In this phase, you can work on improving how you are guiding your reader through your thinking. Your reader will understand your ideas more easily if they are clearly focused, well-developed with specific evidence (correctly cited), and nicely organized.

Two strategies to guide you through revision include SASC’s Revision Checklist and Post-draft Outline, found here under Writing Resources. A writing appointment is also a great way to learn about and practice revision skills.

Editing is the final, polishing phase; it involves correcting sentence-level issues and technical aspects, such as word choice and grammar. Readers pick up these issues quickly because they can be the most obvious. Carelessness with grammar or word choice can lead to misunderstandings and make your writing seem unprofessional.

Student Academic Success Center

Trust the process

As mentioned earlier, the writing process is not necessarily a linear, step-by-step approach; it’s recursive, so it’s highly likely you’ll move back and forth between phases as you figure out your focus and organization of ideas.

Using this process gets easier with practice, and it works well in any writing situations, not just for graduate school assignments and scholarly papers.

Once you develop the most efficient method for your learning style, not only will you get faster, you will produce better academic papers.

Book an appointment

The SASC can help with all phases of the writing process via an Online Writing Support Appointment.  Visit the Online Student page for more details about writing support and resources.

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How to write a graduate-level essay

What's in this guide: site map.

  • 2. Create a preliminary document plan
  • 3. Draft your thesis statement
  • 4a. Become familiar with the information landscape
  • 4b. Select the appropriate search tool
  • 4c. Develop effective searches
  • 4d. Beyond keyword searching
  • 4e. Find statistical information
  • 4f. Evaluate the resources you find
  • 4g. Read, absorb, and organize the information you find
  • 5. Finalize your document plan
  • 6. Double-check your research
  • 7. Start writing the first draft
  • 8. Overcome writer's block
  • 9. Revise the draft
  • 10. Edit the draft
  • 11. Prepare the final version
  • 12. Submit the assignment

New to grad school?

Here are some video resources to support you as you begin your journey.

  • Gradschoolitis  (6:50) / Transcript
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  • Introduction to the Writing Centre   (3:03)
  • Introduction to Academic Writing  (37:11)
  • Writing an Academic Paragraph (19:35)
  • Introduction to APA Style (7th ed.)  (28:19)

Feeling stuck?

  • Ask the Library a question via LibAnswers
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How to use this guide

Depending on where you're at in your writing process and how you learn, you can:

  • Work through each step in sequence using the "prev" and "next" navigation at the bottom of each page.
  • Use the right-hand menu or the map below to jump straight into a particular topic.

I'm ready now – let's go to Step 1.

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  •       Resources       Publish or Perish: Graduate Students' Guide to Publishing

Publish or Perish: Graduate Students' Guide to Publishing

In addition to endless piles of reading, demanding expectations in the classroom, student teaching responsibilities, and the always-looming awareness that they need to research, write, and edit a high-quality dissertation before graduating, today’s Ph.D. students also commonly feel stress about another topic: publishing. As more prospective employers expect degree seekers to get their names in academic journals and conferences while still in school, many learners feel overwhelmed by the prospects of making the grade. The following guide answers some of their most pressing questions, provides guidance on the ins and outs of publishing while still in school, and offers expert advice from a professor who knows better than most what it takes to publish rather than perish.

Understanding Publishing in Graduate School

Getting published as a grad student can feel overwhelming at first, because there’s so much to learn about the process and expectations surrounding it. With a bit of research, however, students can familiarize themselves with the specific language surrounding publishing and make in-roads towards getting their first paper published.

What Does it Mean to Get Published?

Within the context of graduate school, publishing refers to getting essays, papers, and research findings published in one of the academic journals or related forms seen as a leader in the field. As jobs in academia continue to become more competitive, it isn’t enough for learners to simply do well in their coursework. The degree seeker who hopes to land an important post-doctoral fellowship or find a teaching position at a college or university must make themselves stand out in other ways.

When Should a Ph.D. Candidate Get Published?

Getting a paper published takes a lot of time and effort, and those students who wait until the final year or two of a doctoral program may fail to actually have any published materials by the time they graduate. According to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Graduate Connections program , getting a paper published – especially if it’s your first – can take up to three years. In addition to the fact that most journals publish quarterly, the panel review process typically takes a significant amount of time and those submitting for the first or second time usually need to make a large number of edits and complete rewrites in order to reach a publishable standard.

How to Get Published

In order to get published, students submit their work to the journal or conference of their choosing. They frequently also provide a cover letter outlining their research interests. Most journals put out generic calls for submissions once or twice a year, while some may ask for papers addressing specific topics that have a much shorter turnaround time. Grad students may find it intimidating to go up against more seasoned academics, but another option revolves around partnering with their dissertation supervisor or another professor with whom they work closely with to co-author a paper. This not only helps ensure the validity of their findings, but alerts the academic world know that this other, more recognized faculty member believes in the research the student is doing.

Who Should Get Published?

Learners most anxious to get published are those who see their future careers in teaching and research. Because the world of academia is relatively small when divided into individual subjects, it’s important for students who want to break into these ambitious arenas to make a name for themselves early on and create a curriculum vitae that captures the attention of hiring committees.

Where Should Students Get Published?

When deciding which publications to pursue, students should consider the research aims of each and their likelihood of getting published. Newer journals tend to take more submissions as they are still working on building up their roster of contributors. While less venerated than other publications, getting printed in these can help build up name recognition and make it easier to break into the top-tier publications over time.

In terms of where work is published, the majority of students look to academic journals when sending out cover letters and examples of their work. But other options exist as well. Presenting papers at conferences is a popular avenue, as are chapters in books. The following sections takes a more in-depth look at how and where to publish.

Realities & Challenges of Getting Published

Getting published, especially while still in grad school, takes tenacity, focus, and a thick skin. Those who continue working on their craft, presenting at conferences, collaborating with others, and not taking no for an answer, however, frequently find success. Some of the challenges students may encounter include:

Lack of time

It’s no secret that doctoral students have busy schedules that seldom allow for outside – or sometimes, even related – interests to take up much of their days. Because publishing is not a degree requirement, carving out the time needed to research, write, and edit the type of paper required for publishing can feel impossible. With this in mind, student should look for ways to multitask. If presenting at a conference, think about how that paper could be transformed into a journal article.

Lack of confidence

Studies have shown that mental stress and illness frequently increase in grad school as students feel intense pressure to stand out from their peers. These feelings are often intensified when considering publishing, as learners are going up against academics and researchers who have been working in the field far longer than them. It’s important to remember that each of those renowned individuals had to start somewhere.

Lack of funding

Completing the research needed for a competitive paper doesn’t only take time – it requires money. Whether traveling to archives or printing all the necessary documentation, funding for outside research can be scarce while in school. Some programs provide competitive grants for research travel to help offset these costs.

Intense competition

As discussed earlier, competition for publishing is fierce. Academic journals and conferences only have space for so many authors and trying to get noticed can feel like a losing battle. In addition to seeking out newer publications and co-authoring with more notable figures, consider taking part in symposiums at the school you attend to get your foot in the door. While research on the average number of rejections is lacking, don’t feel discouraged if it takes a long time to be chosen for publication.

Finding the right publisher

While getting your name in print within an academic journal you greatly admire is the ultimate goal, it may take some years for it to come to fruition. One of the biggest mistakes students make is applying to ill-suited publications. Look for journals with editorial board members whose names you recognize. If a professor knows one of them, don’t be afraid to ask if they can help get your paper in front of them.

Adequately addressing feedback

Getting a paper published often requires intense editing and even completely restructuring and rewriting what you conceived in the initial abstract. If an academic journal shows interest in your essay but suggests rewrites, pay close attention to their requests and try to work with an advisor to ensure you meet all the stated requirements.

What do Graduate Students Publish?

Academic journals may receive the lion’s share of discussion in the publishing world, but graduate students can actually choose from numerous outlets and paths for getting their work to a larger audience. Students should review the options listed below and think about which format might showcase their work best.

Tips for Publishing

Despite the great amount of work required to publish, students who meet the challenges and persevere stand to position themselves favorably for future job opportunities. The following section addresses some of the most common questions about the process and alleviates general fears about how publishing (or not) reflects upon them.

How many papers should a Ph.D. student try to publish before graduating?

According to scholar-practitioner Dr. Deniece Dortch, no single answer exists. “There is no hard and fast rule as to the number of publications students should have prior to graduation,” she notes. “The reality is students in STEM disciplines and those who use quantitative methods are more likely to have publications prior to graduation because they often work in research teams and labs. This is not to say that qualitative scholars or those in other disciplines aren’t, but it’s a much more standardized practice in STEM for students to graduate with two or three publications. Personally, I had one sole-authored publication accepted prior to graduation, one first-authored piece, and one second-authored piece.”

How many journal articles is it possible to publish during a PhD?

“The answer varies and is determined by factors such as length of program, research team access, and faculty relationships,” says Dr. Dortch. “I’ve seen folks finish with as many as 10 publications, although this is extreme and doesn’t happen often.” She continues, “Imagine you are in a four-year program and you get your idea to write an article in year two. You submit that article in year three after getting approval, collecting data, analyzing it, and then writing your paper. Year three you submit that paper; it may be accepted in year four after months of revisions at the request of the editor. You finally have one published paper as you graduate.”

Are there PhD students who have no journal publications? Should they be worried about that?

“It depends on the type of employment the student is seeking upon graduation,” says Dr. Dortch, “Students applying to or wanting to work in institutions and organizations with the highest levels of research productivity who have no publications may want to consider post-doctoral positions so they have the time and space to work on increasing their publication record after graduation.” She continues, “Postdocs are a very common practice in many disciplines and are used as a way to gain additional training and expertise in research and teaching.”

Is it absolutely essential to have publications to apply for a PhD program?

In a word, no. Individuals working toward doctoral degrees have many reasons for doing so, not all of which require them to publish. Admissions panels also recognize that students focus their efforts on many different goals (e.g. jobs, internships, presenting at symposiums) throughout bachelor’s and master’s programs. As long as learners can demonstrate an ongoing commitment to scholarship, publishing is not an absolute requirement.

Does publish or perish begin before starting a PhD program?

It’s true that many students begin worrying about publishing before starting a Ph.D. program, but the reality is that they have ample time during and after completing a doctorate to make their mark on the world of scholarship. According to a recent article by Inside Higher Ed , some individuals in the academy now wonder if too much emphasis is being placed on grad students publishing. Learners unsure about this should speak to a trusted advisor or mentor to figure out when to focus on getting published.

What is the difference between a published article and a Ph.D. thesis?

While a Ph.D. thesis is required for satisfactory completion of a degree, a published article is not. A Ph.D. also takes a much longer form than a published article, averaging approximately 90,000 words. Academic journal entries, conversely, are usually between 4,000 and 7,000 words.

Should I first write my Ph.D. thesis or publish journal articles?

Though publishing at the doctoral level is increasingly seen as a requirement in the job market, it is not part of degree requirements. With this in mind, students should prioritize the research and writing of their thesis above all else. If they have the time and mental clarity needed to publish journal articles, this can be a secondary focus.

From the Expert

Dr. Deniece Dortch is a scholar-practitioner known for her commitment to diversity, social justice and activism. Dr. Dortch holds a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an Ed.M. in Higher & Postsecondary Education from Columbia University, an M.A. in Intercultural Service, Diversity Leadership & Management from the School for International Training and a B.A. in Spanish from Eastern Michigan University. Hailed a graduate school expert by NPR, she has published numerous articles on the experiences of historically underrepresented undergraduate and graduate students. She is the creator of the African American Doctoral Scholars Initiative at the University of Utah and currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of Higher Education at The George Washington University .

Publishing as a student can feel intimidating. Why is this process important for learners to go through?

Long gone are the days of getting a good job by just having a solid dissertation or an award-winning thesis. Publishing your work while in school demonstrates a commitment to answering and understanding our world’s most complex problems. Further, institutions want to know that you have the capacity to publish. Now, publishing doesn’t mean you have to be first author or that you must publish sole-authored pieces only. Collaboration is also sufficient and often encouraged. The publishing process is intimidating for folks because it involves critique and, most often, rejection.

Receiving and giving critical feedback is part of the learning process and students should not shy away from it because it will only serve them well in the end as they learn to cope with disappointment and reward. But more importantly, there is no point spending months and years conducting research if you are just going to keep your findings to yourself. What you learn is meant to be shared.

What are some common mistakes these learners make when preparing their first papers?

Common mistakes that individuals make include not adhering to the guidelines outlined in the submission process. Examples of this can include ignoring formatting requirements (e.g. APA, MLA, etc.), going over the stated word count, inadequately proofreading, and not submitting a cover letter. This is probably the most important one.

What specific advice do you have for them in terms of finding the right outlet, preparing their work, and submitting to journals?

Students should have multiple individuals read over their work before submission. Writing is a process and even after it is submitted, it will need to be revised many more times before you will read it in print. It is part of the process. To find a good outlet for your work, pay attention to where other scholars are submitting their work. If you’re subject is aligned with theirs, you have a shot. Make a list of at least three outlets that fit your article. Also look out for special calls. A special call for submissions usually goes a lot faster than the regular submission process, so if you’re a student who is about to go on the job market, submit to those first. Also, the more competitive the academic, the longer the process, so keep that in mind. If you are rejected, just re-submit to the the next journal on your list.

In addition to publishing in journals, how else might a student go about getting recognition in their field while still in school?

Apply for all fellowships, grants, and awards that are specific to you and what you do. People in the academy love an award winner and they especially love people whose work has been recognized and/or funded by outside groups. A great way to increase a student’s visibility is to publish outside academic journals and publish in other media outlets. Also attend conferences in your field. Try to get on the program as a presenter or facilitator so that people in your field will start to know who you are and your research interests.

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  • Statement of Purpose, Personal Statement, and Writing Sample

Details about submitting a statement of purpose, personal statement, and a writing sample as part of your degree program application

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Statement of Purpose 

The statement of purpose is very important to programs when deciding whether to admit a candidate. Your statement should be focused, informative, and convey your research interests and qualifications. You should describe your reasons and motivations for pursuing a graduate degree in your chosen degree program, noting the experiences that shaped your research ambitions, indicating briefly your career objectives, and concisely stating your past work in your intended field of study and in related fields. Your degree program of interest may have specific guidance or requirements for the statement of purpose, so be sure to review the degree program page for more information. Unless otherwise noted, your statement should not exceed 1,000 words. 

Personal Statement

A core part of the Harvard Griffin GSAS mission is to identify and attract the most promising students to form a dynamic and diverse community. We are committed to educating individuals who reflect the growing diversity of perspectives and life experiences represented in society today and who will contribute to our commitment to sustain a welcoming, supportive, and inclusive environment. Please share how your experiences or activities will advance our mission and commitment. Your statement should be no longer than 500 words.

Writing Sample 

Please visit Degree Programs and navigate to your degree program of interest to determine if a writing sample is required. When preparing your writing sample, be sure to follow program requirements, which may include format, topic, or length. 

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  • Guide to Applying for Graduate School

The process of preparing for and applying to a PhD program can be overwhelming. The University of Pennsylvania has created this webpage to help prospective PhD students think through the process so you can put together a strong application.

A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is the highest degree one may obtain within a particular field of study. This ranges from studies in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields; Social Science fields such as Education, Economics, Political Science, and Sociology; as well as Humanities fields such as English, History, Music, Philosophy, and more. The PhD degree aims to prepare people to think critically, develop research, and produce scholarship that may be used for further research or implementation. The PhD historically prepared students to take on faculty roles in colleges and universities, and that is still the goal for many students pursuing the PhD. However, today the PhD is a sought-after degree in many other industries including pharmaceutical research, arts organizations and other nonprofits, publishing, government policy, big tech, finance, and more.

  • Who can apply to a PhD program?  PhD education is available to people from various educational, occupational, socioeconomic, and demographic backgrounds.
  • Who should get a PhD?  People interested in uncovering new ideas, solutions, processes, etc. within a specific area of study through conducting independent research.
  • Why is it important for diverse candidates to become PhD holders?  Our world thrives on heterogeneous ideas and experiences, which is why it is indispensable to include students with diverse perspectives in our PhD programs. These students will generate important and original research.

Most PhD programs are fully funded, meaning that for a specific number of years, the program will pay for your tuition and fees and health insurance, as well as provide you with a stipend for living expenses. The structure of this funding varies by field. Below is an outline of general funding information as well as trends according to field of study.

  • Funding packages provided by educational institution.
  • Funding packages provided through faculty research grants: Many STEM fields fund students through research grants awarded to faculty. In these cases, students perform research alongside the faculty. 
  • Teaching Assistantships or Research Assistantships: Part-time service that provides teaching and research training opportunities within your area of study.
  • Fellowships: Internal or external merit-based funding. Some fellowships require an application while others are given via nomination. Educational institutions typically have a resource listing fellowship opportunities. Winning a competitive fellowship looks good on your resume.
  • Grants: Requires an application with supporting materials of either your grades, scholarly work, and/or anticipated research. These are available through internal and external means. Grants greatly vary so be sure to always understand the requirements. Educational institutions typically have a resource listing grant opportunities. Winning a competitive grant looks good on your resume.
  • Employment: For example, serving as a residential advisor, on-campus jobs, etc. Some PhD programs restrict additional employment, so be sure to check before applying for jobs.
  • The funding opportunities described here often can be combined.

Choosing a school or program that provides the most potential funding may be a challenging decision. The value of the same amount of funding will differ depending on the cost of living in different geographic locations. Admitted applicants should investigate cost-of-living tools (available on the web) and be sure to understand how their funding will be structured. Ask questions when you are admitted, such as: 

  • Could you share more about your program’s funding mechanism?
  • For how long is funding guaranteed? How does that compare to the average time-to-completion? Historically, what percentage of students have received funding beyond the guaranteed funding package?
  • Does funding cover tuition, fees, books, etc.?
  • Does the funding rely on teaching, research, or other service? How much and for how long? 

Choosing a program for your studies is a personal decision that should reflect not only your research interests, but your work style, and interests outside of the classroom. Here we have identified five key tips to consider when selecting schools. 

  • Ask about which programs are strong in your area of interest, which have high completion rates, which have career outcomes that align with your goals, etc. 
  • Conduct a general internet search with terms related to your research interest.
  • Determine your geographic and personal preferences. Does the area meet your community needs? Is it important that the university aligns with your sociopolitical values? Do you prefer a large city or a smaller/college town? Is there a particular region(s) that has better access to resources needed to conduct your research?
  • Access your current or former university career center. These services are often still available for former students!
  • As you narrow your choices, try to identify at least 3 faculty in the programs of interest with whom you’d like to study. Also note how many of them have tenure. If relevant, research which of those faculty are taking on advisees in your year of matriculation.
  • Read articles from faculty with similar research interests.
  • Note the number of awards, publications, and service activities of faculty.
  • Identify research opportunities funded by both your program and university at large.
  • Connect with current and former students in the program for informational interviews.
  • Connect with campus Diversity Offices.
  • Whenever possible, before submitting your applications, make an appointment to visit the campuses and department(s) that interest you.
  • Use  LinkedIn  to see what graduates of your program are doing and how they are involved in their communities.
  • Estimate your feasible cost of living by geographic location and compare to the funding package offered.
  • Consider availability of health insurance, childcare, housing, transportation, and other fringe benefits.
  • Connect with a local bank or your prospective university’s financial services office for budgeting, savings, and other financial wellness advice.
  • Your First Year in a Ph.D. Program
  • What Does Academic Success Mean and How to Achieve it?  (STEM)
  • Pathways to Science  (STEM)
  • 7 Advantages PhDs Have Over Other Job Candidates  (Industry)
  • During your undergraduate/master’s education, you should pursue coursework and/or research that will prepare you for the higher expectations of a PhD program; for example, taking a research methods course, pursuing a summer research experience, or conducting research with a professor at your home institution.
  • Identify instructors who could write a letter of recommendation. Ask them to write letters even if you do not intend to apply to PhD programs immediately. Their letter will be stronger if they draft it while their memory of you is fresh.
  • Experiences outside of higher education can also strengthen your PhD application. These may range from project management to volunteer work.
  • Develop soft or hard skills. A soft skill that is most useful from the first day of your PhD program is networking. This is necessary not only for meeting other students but also to find collaborators with similar research interests and selecting faculty for your dissertation committee. Learning how to negotiate will also serve you well when approaching collaborative projects. Hard skills related to your field might include learning statistical analysis software, economic theory, a foreign language, or search engine optimization. In short, identify a few soft and hard skills that you can familiarize yourself with prior to your program’s start date.
  • Finally, prepare by identifying leading researchers and practitioners in your field, exploring peer-reviewed literature and/or publications, and gain familiarity with research methods.
  • Be sure to address all the specific questions/topics in the personal statement prompt. 
  • Clearly state why you want to pursue a PhD.
  • Propose your research interest.
  • Identify the faculty you’d like to study under. 
  • Discuss the unique qualities/experiences you offer to the program/school.
  • Outline what you hope to do with your degree.
  • Ask for recommendation letters early in the process, at least 2-4 weeks before the deadline. A good letter takes time to write!
  • Provide recommenders with your resume, information about the program, your personal statement and/or information about your research interests and research goals.
  • Consider your current/former instructors, supervisors, colleagues. These should be people who can speak to your work ethic, academic abilities, and research interests.
  • Test scores (i.e. TOFEL, GRE, GMAT, etc.) may or may not be required.
  • All transcripts including those for coursework completed abroad and transfer credits. Some programs require official transcripts, which take longer to procure.
  • Writing sample (field dependent): Include a graduate-level sample and update any statements, statistics, etc. as needed. It is highly encouraged that you edit your previous work.
  • Diversity statement: Many institutions offer an optional short statement where students can expand on their diverse backgrounds and experiences that may contribute to the diversity interests/efforts of the school.
  • Typically, PhD applications are due 10-12 months in advance of the program’s start date (i.e. apply in November to start the following September). A good rule of thumb is to begin your application process 6 months before the deadline. 
  • The availability of reduced application fees or fee waivers varies and sometimes depends on financial status and/or experiences (AmeriCorps, National Society of Black Engineers, attending certain conferences, etc.). If you are interested in a reduced fee or waiver, reach out to the program coordinator for details.
  • Dress professionally, even if the interview is virtual. You don’t necessarily need to wear a suit but dress pants/skirt and a blouse/button down shirt would be appropriate.  
  • Develop an engaging elevator pitch, a 30-60 second summary, of your research interests and what you hope to gain by becoming a student at that particular university. Practice your pitch with friends and ask for honest feedback.
  • Prepare 2-3 questions to ask during the interview. These could include questions about program expectations, the experience and success of their PhD students, and (academic/financial/mental health) support for PhD students.
  • Some interview programs will include multiple activities including a social event. Be sure to maintain a professional attitude: do not drink too much and keep conversation on academic/professional topics.
  • This is also your opportunity to decide whether this campus is a good fit for you.
  • Academia Insider  is a good resource. 

Unlike undergraduate and master’s level education, coursework is just one component of the degree. A PhD comes with additional expectations: you must independently conduct scholarly research in your field of study, train in specific activities such as teaching or lab/field research, pass “milestone” requirements along the way, such as comprehensive exams, and complete the process by writing a dissertation. Furthermore, some fields require you to write multiple articles (number varies by field/program) for conference presentation and/or peer-reviewed publication.

There are other important elements as well:

  • Student/Advisor relationship. This is one of the most valuable relationships you can have as a PhD student. Your faculty advisor not only assists you with learning how to approach your research topic, but also typically serves as the lead supervisor of your dissertation research and writing, and ideally mentors you throughout the PhD experience. The selection process of choosing your advisor varies so be sure to know what is expected of you as a student and what is expected of the faculty member. Whenever possible, it is important to align your personality and work style with that of your faculty advisor. Many universities publish expectations for the PhD student/faculty advisor relationship;  AMP’ed  is Penn’s guide.
  • Other relationships: Your faculty advisor is far from the only important person during your PhD career. Other faculty members will also serve on your dissertation committee and be potential mentors. Other students in your program can also provide good advice and guidance along the way.
  • Coursework: Most programs have a number of required courses all students must take regardless of research interests. Once you have finished this requirement, the classes you choose should closely align with your research topic. Choose courses that will help you learn more about your dissertation topic and research methods. It is a good idea to discuss elective course selection with your advisor. 
  • The dissertation is a large-scale, written document that explores a narrow research topic of your choice. It is the final step before receiving your degree and must be presented and “defended” to your dissertation committee (made up of faculty members) for approval. Defending means that you have to answer in-depth questions about your topic. While this might sound daunting, the dissertation is simply a demonstration of all the knowledge and expertise you have acquired through your PhD education. 
  • Networking comes in many forms and includes connections with your fellow classmates, faculty members, and scholarly community. Formal networking events typically take place at academic conferences, where scholars and students present research. Increasing your academic circle will not only allow you to have study buddies, but offer you the opportunity to collaborate on articles or even gain employment. Your school’s career center can provide best practices for effective networking. 

Explore  graduate programs at the University of Pennsylvania  and click on the programs that interest you to learn more about admissions and academic requirements.

Upcoming Penn recruitment events include:

  • Fontaine Fellows Recruitment Dinner (by invitation only): Friday, March 22, 2024
  • IDDEAS@Wharton  (Introduction to Diversity in Doctoral Education and Scholarship): April 18-19, 2024. Deadline to apply is January 31.
  • DEEPenn STEM  (Diversity Equity Engagement at Penn in STEM): October 11-13, 2024. Application opens in March 2024.
  • DivE In Weekend  (Diversity & Equity Initiative for Mind Research): Fall 2024

National conferences to explore:

  • The Leadership Alliance  supports students into research careers
  • McNair Scholar Conferences
  • SACNAS , the largest multidisciplinary and multicultural STEM diversity event in the U.S.
  • ABRCMS , the annual biomedical research conference for minoritized scientists
  • The PhD Project  for students interested in business PhD programs

Northeastern University Graduate Programs

How to Write a Statement of Purpose for Graduate School

How to Write a Statement of Purpose for Graduate School

Congrats! You’ve chosen a graduate program , read up on tips for applying to grad school , and even wrote a focused grad school resumé . But if you’re like many students, you’ve left the most daunting part of the application process for last—writing a statement of purpose. The good news is, the task doesn’t have to feel so overwhelming, as long as you break the process down into simple, actionable steps. Below, learn how to write a strong, unique statement of purpose that will impress admissions committees and increase your chances of getting into your dream school.

What is a statement of purpose?

A statement of purpose (SOP), sometimes referred to as a personal statement, is a critical piece of a graduate school application that tells admissions committees who you are, what your academic and professional interests are, and how you’ll add value to the graduate program you’re applying to.

Jared Pierce, associate director of enrollment services at Northeastern University, says a strong statement of purpose can be the deciding factor in a graduate student’s admission.  

“Your statement of purpose is where you tell your story about who you are and why you deserve to be a part of the [university’s] community. It gives the admissions committee the chance to get to know you and understand how you’ll add value to the classroom,” he says.

How long should a statement of purpose be?

“A statement of purpose should be between 500 and 1,000 words,” Pierce says, noting that it should typically not exceed a single page. He advises that students use a traditional font at a readable size (11- or 12-pt) and leave enough whitespace in the margins to make the statement easy-to-read. Make sure to double-space the statement if the university has requested it, he adds. 

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How to Write a Statement of Purpose: A Step-by-Step Guide

Now that you understand how to format a statement of purpose, you can begin drafting your own. Getting started can feel daunting, but Pierce suggests making the process more manageable by breaking down the writing process into four easy steps.

1. Brainstorm your ideas.

First, he says, try to reframe the task at hand and get excited for the opportunity to write your statement of purpose. He explains:

“Throughout the application process, you’re afforded few opportunities to address the committee directly. Here is your chance to truly speak directly to them. Each student arrives at this process with a unique story, including prior jobs, volunteer experience, or undergraduate studies. Think about what makes you you and start outlining.”

When writing your statement of purpose, he suggests asking yourself these key questions:

  • Why do I want this degree?
  • What are my expectations for this degree?
  • What courses or program features excite me the most?
  • Where do I want this degree to take me, professionally and personally?
  • How will my unique professional and personal experiences add value to the program?

Jot these responses down to get your initial thoughts on paper. This will act as your starting point that you’ll use to create an outline and your first draft.

2. Develop an outline.

Next, you’ll want to take the ideas that you’ve identified during the brainstorming process and plug them into an outline that will guide your writing. 

An effective outline for your statement of purpose might look something like this:

  • An attention-grabbing hook
  • A brief introduction of yourself and your background as it relates to your motivation behind applying to graduate school 
  • Your professional goals as they relate to the program you’re applying to
  • Why you’re interested in the specific school and what you can bring to the table
  • A brief summary of the information presented in the body that emphasizes your qualifications and compatibility with the school

An outline like the one above will give you a roadmap to follow so that your statement of purpose is well-organized and concise. 

3. Write the first draft.

Your statement of purpose should communicate who you are and why you are interested in a particular program, but it also needs to be positioned in a way that differentiates you from other applicants. 

Admissions professionals already have your transcripts, resumé, and test scores; the statement of purpose is your chance to tell your story in your own words.

When you begin drafting content, make sure to:

  • Provide insight into what drives you , whether that’s professional advancement, personal growth, or both.
  • Demonstrate your interest in the school by addressing the unique features of the program that interest you most. For Northeastern, he says, maybe it’s experiential learning; you’re excited to tackle real-world projects in your desired industry. Or perhaps it’s learning from faculty who are experts in your field of study.
  • Be yourself. It helps to keep your audience in mind while writing, but don’t forget to let your personality shine through. It’s important to be authentic when writing your statement to show the admissions committee who you are and why your unique perspective will add value to the program.

4. Edit and refine your work.

Before you submit your statement of purpose:

  • Make sure you’ve followed all directions thoroughly , including requirements about margins, spacing, and font size.
  • Proofread carefully for grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
  • Remember that a statement of purpose should be between 500 and 1,000 words. If you’ve written far more than this, read through your statement again and edit for clarity and conciseness. Less is often more; articulate your main points strongly and get rid of any “clutter.”
  • Walk away and come back later with a fresh set of eyes. Sometimes your best ideas come when you’re not sitting and staring at your computer.
  • Ask someone you trust to read your statement before you submit it.

Making a Lasting Impression

Your statement of purpose can leave a lasting impression if done well, Pierce says. It provides you with the opportunity to highlight your unique background and skills so that admissions professionals understand why you’re the ideal candidate for the program that you’re applying to. If nothing else, stay focused on what you uniquely bring to the classroom, the program, and the campus community. If you do that, you’ll excel.

To learn more tricks and tips for submitting an impressive graduate school application, explore our related Grad School Success articles .

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in March 2017. It has since been updated for thoroughness and accuracy.

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About shayna joubert, related articles.

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  • Communication Resources for Master's Students

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Communication Resources for Master's Students

At UB, we understand good communication's role in academic success and professional growth. That's why we have curated a comprehensive set of resources designed to empower you to become a confident and proficient communicator throughout your master's journey.

Within this section, you will discover a wealth of services to assist you at every stage of the communication process. We aim to equip you with the knowledge and skills to convey your ideas articulately, persuasively and clearly.

We encourage you to use the available tools as you explore the resources below. Effective communication is a lifelong skill, and you invest in your personal and professional growth by utilizing the resources provided.

Writing Resources

Center for Excellence in Writing

The Center for Excellence in Writing (CEW) is the place on campus where graduate students can find support for their writing. Writing consultants can help you with various writing projects, including papers, dissertations, theses, proposals, fellowships, job application materials and conference presentations.

International students can take advantage of individual consultations and resources offered by the CEW. Individual consultations can support graduate students working in a language outside their native language.

The CEW holds dissertation retreats, dissertation cafés, writing groups and more throughout the year. Be sure to subscribe to the Graduate Writing Support listserv to receive emails about graduate writing and dissertation support programs .

Graduate Student Association (GSA) Editorial Services The Graduate Student Association offers free copyediting services to graduate students. GSA editorial services can help you with quick copy edits, grammar questions, and submissions of up to 50 pages. Be sure to build in plenty of time to get your edits returned.

National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (NCFDD) The University at Buffalo is a  National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (NCFDD)  member. Through the NCFDD, graduate students can find support for writing through writing challenges and a dissertation success curriculum. This is a free resource for faculty, postdoctoral scholars and graduate students.

The Center for Excellence in Writing has proven to be a powerful resource for graduate students and can help with a wide variety of writing projects including: course papers, dissertations, theses, proposals, job application materials, conference presentation, group projects, journal articles and more.

Communicating Your Research

3MT Micro-Credential The 3MT Micro-Credential: Communicating Research to Broad Audiences  is an optional resource intended to help graduate students learn how to communicate their research. Participants will learn to articulate strategies and techniques to communicate graduate-level research to a non-specialist audience. Upon completing the micro-credential, participants will have prepared a three-minute pitch about their research and developed an effective, supporting PowerPoint slide, all while giving and receiving peer feedback.

Venture Coaching UB' Startup and Innovation Collaboratory (CoLab) offers free, confidential, one-on-one mentoring and support from their network of venture coaches . Get help moving your idea forward with assistance that is perfect for individuals or startups at any stage in any industry. Whether you're creating a business model canvas, starting the customer discovery process, prepping a pitch deck for a competition, or just need some feedback, their venture coaches have got you covered.

Art of Research Competition

The Art of Research celebrates the extraordinary research of University at Buffalo graduate students and postdoctoral scholars through a showcase of original images highlighting the inherent beauty in research, scholarship and creative activity.

In this communication competition, entrants submit an original image that represents their research and a brief description of how it relates to their overall research. 

Publishing Resources

  • The Center for Excellence in Writing can assist in preparing papers and manuscripts for publication. 
  • University Libraries offer support and consultation to assist with digital scholarship and scholarly publishing. In addition, University Libraries host  micro-credentials to support digital literacy . Three related courses are designed to develop digital literacy skills.

External Resources

  • Publish Not Perish is a newsletter for academics who want to write more while being balanced.
  • Purdue OWL  is a free writing resource that provides writing guides and online resources.

Stay Informed

The graduate brief.

Every Wednesday during the semester, the Graduate School emails the "Graduate Brief" to all graduate and professional students, which is a weekly selection of news and happenings within the Graduate School and its partnering offices. If you would like to be added to the mailing list, please contact [email protected] .

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Articles & Advice > Graduate School > Articles

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3 Great Grad School Application Essay Examples

The grad school personal statement is an important part of your application. Here are a few good graduate admission essay examples to inspire you.

by CollegeXpress

Last Updated: Jan 3, 2024

Originally Posted: Jun 15, 2017

Graduate school application essays, personal statements, and letters of intent can be a major hurdle to overcome in the application process. Getting just the right words on paper to convey why you want to go to grad school and the impact you intend to have using your degree is a lot to ask. To help you get some inspiration and tell your story the right way, check out these three essay examples. Every essay here comes from a successful grad school application, and after reading the essay we break down just what makes it good. And you’re going to love their stories.

Daniel Masciello, Juris Doctor

University of Connecticut Class of 2015

T ry. To get. Some. Slee—it’s no use.

It’s 3:00 am, 90 minutes before our day at work in the landfills of rural Thailand is set to begin, and the 60-watt bulb is still shining bright overhead. It is radiant.

Directly on my left is one grown man’s bare armpit; to my right is more of the same. I keep my nose pointed at the ceiling. I can’t lift my arms because I am too big, a Caucasian beetle trying to fit into this Thai ant colony.

I’ve been lying still for the better part of six hours now, unable to determine exactly why my host family insists on leaving the brightest light in the house on all night (to this day, still a mystery). It is not for a child’s sake; I, at 22 years old, am the youngest in the home. I’m also the only American. Five grown men, lined up snugly on a queen-sized mattress, are soundly sleeping while I contemplate excuses for not working in the landfill that day.

Twelve hours later, over sticky rice and “fresh” vegetables (from the landfill), I try to call out some of my bunkmates for being afraid of the dark. Nobody laughs at my jokes, but they don’t stop smiling either. Perhaps they don’t understand my infantile Thai. From what I can understand of them, they enjoy talking about how grumpy I’ve been all day. No sleep for some 60-odd hours and putting in two grueling days in the landfill, filtering through mountains of trash from the nearby city of Khon Kaen, looking for yogurt containers and car batteries in the hot Thai sun—these things can change a man’s general disposition.

But I did wake up and go to work with my host family. No, I was not prepared physically or mentally, nor was I in the best of moods that day. But the smiling way of the Thai people is infectious, and it wasn’t long before I was smiling too that night, stomach full and ready for more...

That was back in the fall of 2008. The study abroad program I was participating in revolved around studying specific issues (damning rivers, mining minerals, razing slums, etc.), staying with a village that was negatively affected by an issue, and then working to help solve the problem. It was not uncommon to have sessions lasting eight or nine hours just to prepare for a town meeting the next day. Free time after exchanges and interviews would be spent working in the fields with the villagers or perhaps working on our program’s publications. It was not your typical study abroad experience. I have yet to learn of another like it.

It was also challenging at times. Thailand changed my view on a lot of things for the better, including what it means to truly work hard. As a waiter back home, it was a routine practice to work 40 hours a week in addition to going to class and studying. Still, sometimes I wonder if I used jobs outside of class as a crutch. I always had the excuse: I have to work to support myself. But so do a lot of people. And for some of those people, like many of the villagers in Thailand, working extra hours is not temporary. It's a way of life.

At the time I'm not sure I truly appreciated the privilege I had of going to college, as my undergraduate GPA might indicate. Part of that disappointing number is that I feel as if I was afraid of putting 100% of my effort into school. If I was to put all my effort in and still get mediocre grades, I would have considered myself a failure. Apparently I couldn’t or refused to handle that. How cowardly, not to mention foolish!

But while I was in Thailand, I developed a confidence in myself that I simply hadn’t been able to locate before. On multiple occasions I tasted the failure that comes with studying complex issues in a foreign land. Each time it tasted horrible. But I worked on these failures.

For example, I nagged my homestay families to help me with my Thai and forced myself to request constructive criticism in a group setting. Through these trials I discovered the sweetest feeling of them all: perseverance. That meal next to the landfill, described above, was one of the most deliciously memorable meals of my life for that same reason. I was exhausted and maybe a little bit grumpy, but I learned to work through it—and smile too.

I am well aware that law school will probably force me to even further revise my definition of hard work and present challenges and setbacks the likes of which I may not have yet experienced. But I would like to face these challenges, and most importantly overcome them, at your school. I hope my letters of recommendation and LSAT score give the indication that I am capable of doing so. This essay, lastly, is a chance for me to convince you that I can and will. I look forward to hearing from you.

Why this essay is great

Try to stop reading this personal statement, we dare you. The introduction grabs you and doesn’t let go. But besides spinning a great yarn that also says a lot about Daniel’s values, this application essay has an important function: it thoughtfully and maturely addresses any concerns the graduate admission committee might have regarding Daniel’s undergraduate academic performance. Showing rather than telling, he depicts a person who is prepared to do the work to overcome obstacles and learn from mistakes. And since he was admitted to the grad program, clearly it worked.

Related:  How to Know If Law School Is Right for You

Bridget Sullivan, Master of Arts in Higher Education Administration

Boston College Class of 2017                                                                                                    

I did not know higher education existed as a field until I came to college. Despite this, it has surprisingly been the field that has had the largest impact on my college experience. It has given me direction going forward.

College has been my most important experience so far, in that it has allowed me to better understand how I interact with my environment and how others experience the world around them. Without the Student Affairs professionals I have interacted with over the past four years, I would not be where I am today. I hope that in my future as a Student Affairs professional I can give students the great experience I have been privileged to receive. I will take the lessons I have learned and those that I will learn in the future to improve the college experience for many future generations going forward. 

I have enjoyed being a Resident Advisor, a Parent Orientation Leader, and an Assistant Resident Director while attending the University of Massachusetts Lowell for the past four years. All of these jobs fall under the Office of Residence Life. These opportunities have been cornerstones of my college education. They have taught me the long-term and transferrable skills of organization, conflict management, and supervision.

I have most enjoyed being an Assistant Resident Director, as I get to work with the Resident Advisors and Resident Director in a more administrative capacity. The ARD works closely with the RD to get the work done and hold RAs accountable. I think my favorite part of being an ARD this year has been working with the RAs to make sure they have the best experience they can, while at the same time making sure they complete their work well and on time. I enjoy helping RAs and other students reach their full potential, and I feel that it is a learning process for me too. The ARD position has shown me how much I value helping others on the path I have set for myself through my experiences with the RAs I supervise.

Because of the ARD role I have been afforded, I have had the opportunity to see how this potential career may play out. I feel confident about my ability to transition to the professional side of the field because the ARD position has already forced me to take on many of these steps. I tested the waters of the potential career in my RA role last year; this year as an ARD has shown me that I know I can succeed. 

I am passionate about student affairs and higher education because it is an opportunity to work with college students and help them grow and develop. I truly believe that there isn’t a more rewarding career than one that allows you to help others. This field allows me to assist others every day at a time in their lives when many students need it most. It was my developmental path, and I want to give that support to others.

So far my academics and daily practice have not been linked nor intentional. I am excited to be able to make this so by starting a graduate program in higher education. Understanding my former responsibilities in terms of theory and learning how to turn new theories into practice is a process I cannot wait to begin. 

I know the Lynch School of Education can assist me in achieving this goal through their program in Higher Education Administration. The opportunity to study in the Boston area will give me a multitude of professional development opportunities that would be hard to find anywhere else. If I am admitted, I will work hard to maximize my time at the Lynch School and become a young professional who can innovate and improve upon current practices in the field.

This personal statement takes you on a journey, as Bridget discovers her calling as an undergrad, gets all the hands-on experience in it she can, and figures out the perfect way to make it her career: grad school. And not just any grad school—Boston College in particular! There’s no doubt in your mind that she’s going to take advantage of everything BC’s master’s program has to offer, and she has the real-world experience to back her claims up.

Related:  Great Alternative Jobs for Education Majors Who Don't Want to Teach

Haviland Johannesson-Forgit,  Master of Arts in Arts Administration

Vermont State University , formerly Castleton University Class of 2018

While contemplating how I should approach my personal and professional goals and how earning an advanced degree will support them, I came upon my application essay for Goddard College that I wrote close to three years ago:

“Oftentimes, children who lack positive, authoritative figures and emotional support end up making unwise choices that stay with them and induce prejudice and judgment from other people who may be ignorant to what caused these children to make the choices in the first place. This cultural stigmatism that exists in our society often leads to these children being segmented into a disenfranchised group as adults. The misunderstanding and neglect that occurs in communities towards socially disenfranchised children goes against everything that I was raised to take in regard when attempting to understand a person.

I envision my studies reaching children and young adults in many different communities. It is my goal to immerse myself in rural, inner-city, and lower-income communities and meet these children before or in the midst of their time when the decisions they make can influence where their life may lead. I believe that the teachings of dance as a holistic lifestyle will provide outlets of knowledge and self-expression for these children and young adults that will lead them in positive directions.”

In this essay we were expected to write about our intentions and ambitions for our studies; to address the passions that acted as the drive for our work during our attendance at the college as well as after graduation. In returning to this essay, I was pleased to discover that my ambition and dedication to using the performing arts as a source of structure and reliability for youth in this country has not changed. When applying to Goddard College for my undergraduate degree I knew that I would want to continue on to pursue my graduate degree afterwards to enhance myself as a qualified candidate working in my field. Earning my advanced degree will enable me to go forth in the world as a confident and learned individual prepared to create the positive opportunities I envisioned years ago.

While earning my advanced degree, I intend to learn the details and structure that is needed to successfully run arts organizations. The closeness that Castleton University has with the Association for Arts Administration in developing its program for the MA in Arts Administration encourages me; it assures me that the quality and rigor of the program at Castleton is the right fit for my personal and professional aspirations. The efficacy of the program combined with the professional portfolio of projects demonstrating a mastery of skills in a range of areas in the arts and the six-credit culminating internship is exactly what I am looking for in an advanced degree program.

My background in the performing arts is broad. Not only have I have spent many years performing in productions of theater and dance, but I have also devoted my time and learning to other aspects of performance arts, whether it be technical, political, or social. My time attending Goddard College has proven to be extremely educational in training me in areas of social justice and cultural realizations of privilege, class, and human rights. With an accomplished and culturally diverse faculty and staff, the College requires its students to incorporate this training into their degrees, which makes for globally conscious citizens.

What I stand to bring to Castleton University’s campus is a vibrant love for the performing arts accompanied by acute social awareness training. My dedication to improving myself as an individual in my career is resolute; earning my advanced degree is vital to my continuing as a professional in a field so important to the foundation of our culture. I look forward to the opportunity of earning my Master of Arts in Arts Administration at Castleton University. 

Haviland draws a remarkable line from her undergraduate studies and goals to the present day . She’s been on a clear path for a long time, and grad school has always been part of the plan and the logical next step for her career. Her unwavering commitment to arts education and dance as a means for furthering social justice will serve her well professionally—and it probably impressed the graduate admission folks too. Haviland also references specific features of Castleton University’s graduate program, showing she’s genuinely interested in the school and its unique strengths.

Related:  Careers for People Who Want to Use Their Creativity

We hope these essay examples helped you get a better idea of where to take your grad school personal statements. The most important part of writing your essay is ensuring every word you put on the page is authentically you and true to your goals. You can write a great essay and get into a good grad school; just give yourself the time and flexibility by starting early and focusing on your story. Good luck!

Need help getting the ball rolling on your graduate essays? Check out these  Good Strategies for Writing Grad School Personal Essays from the experts at GradSchools.com.

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Looking for grad school personal statement examples? Look no further! In this total guide to graduate school personal statement examples, we’ll discuss why you need a personal statement for grad school and what makes a good one. Then we’ll provide three graduate school personal statement samples from our grad school experts. After that, we’ll do a deep dive on one of our personal statement for graduate school examples. Finally, we’ll wrap up with a list of other grad school personal statements you can find online.

Why Do You Need a Personal Statement?

A personal statement is a chance for admissions committees to get to know you: your goals and passions, what you’ll bring to the program, and what you’re hoping to get out of the program.  You need to sell the admissions committee on what makes you a worthwhile applicant. The personal statement is a good chance to highlight significant things about you that don’t appear elsewhere on your application.

A personal statement is slightly different from a statement of purpose (also known as a letter of intent). A statement of purpose/letter of intent tends to be more tightly focused on your academic or professional credentials and your future research and/or professional interests.

While a personal statement also addresses your academic experiences and goals, you have more leeway to be a little more, well, personal. In a personal statement, it’s often appropriate to include information on significant life experiences or challenges that aren’t necessarily directly relevant to your field of interest.

Some programs ask for both a personal statement and a statement of purpose/letter of intent. In this case, the personal statement is likely to be much more tightly focused on your life experience and personality assets while the statement of purpose will focus in much more on your academic/research experiences and goals.

However, there’s not always a hard-and-fast demarcation between a personal statement and a statement of purpose. The two statement types should address a lot of the same themes, especially as relates to your future goals and the valuable assets you bring to the program. Some programs will ask for a personal statement but the prompt will be focused primarily on your research and professional experiences and interests. Some will ask for a statement of purpose but the prompt will be more focused on your general life experiences.

When in doubt, give the program what they are asking for in the prompt and don’t get too hung up on whether they call it a personal statement or statement of purpose. You can always call the admissions office to get more clarification on what they want you to address in your admissions essay.

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What Makes a Good Grad School Personal Statement?

A great graduate school personal statement can come in many forms and styles. However, strong grad school personal statement examples all share the same following elements:

A Clear Narrative

Above all, a good personal statement communicates clear messages about what makes you a strong applicant who is likely to have success in graduate school. So to that extent, think about a couple of key points that you want to communicate about yourself and then drill down on how you can best communicate those points. (Your key points should of course be related to what you can bring to the field and to the program specifically).

You can also decide whether to address things like setbacks or gaps in your application as part of your narrative. Have a low GPA for a couple semesters due to a health issue? Been out of a job for a while taking care of a family member? If you do decide to explain an issue like this, make sure that the overall arc is more about demonstrating positive qualities like resilience and diligence than about providing excuses.

Specific Examples

A great statement of purpose uses specific examples to illustrate its key messages. This can include anecdotes that demonstrate particular traits or even references to scholars and works that have influenced your academic trajectory to show that you are familiar and insightful about the relevant literature in your field.

Just saying “I love plants,” is pretty vague. Describing how you worked in a plant lab during undergrad and then went home and carefully cultivated your own greenhouse where you cross-bred new flower colors by hand is much more specific and vivid, which makes for better evidence.

A strong personal statement will describe why you are a good fit for the program, and why the program is a good fit for you. It’s important to identify specific things about the program that appeal to you, and how you’ll take advantage of those opportunities. It’s also a good idea to talk about specific professors you might be interested in working with. This shows that you are informed about and genuinely invested in the program.

Strong Writing

Even quantitative and science disciplines typically require some writing, so it’s important that your personal statement shows strong writing skills. Make sure that you are communicating clearly and that you don’t have any grammar and spelling errors. It’s helpful to get other people to read your statement and provide feedback. Plan on going through multiple drafts.

Another important thing here is to avoid cliches and gimmicks. Don’t deploy overused phrases and openings like “ever since I was a child.” Don’t structure your statement in a gimmicky way (i.e., writing a faux legal brief about yourself for a law school statement of purpose). The first will make your writing banal; the second is likely to make you stand out in a bad way.

Appropriate Boundaries

While you can be more personal in a personal statement than in a statement of purpose, it’s important to maintain appropriate boundaries in your writing. Don’t overshare anything too personal about relationships, bodily functions, or illegal activities. Similarly, don’t share anything that makes it seem like you may be out of control, unstable, or an otherwise risky investment. The personal statement is not a confessional booth. If you share inappropriately, you may seem like you have bad judgment, which is a huge red flag to admissions committees.

You should also be careful with how you deploy humor and jokes. Your statement doesn’t have to be totally joyless and serious, but bear in mind that the person reading the statement may not have the same sense of humor as you do. When in doubt, err towards the side of being as inoffensive as possible.

Just as being too intimate in your statement can hurt you, it’s also important not to be overly formal or staid. You should be professional, but conversational.

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Graduate School Personal Statement Examples

Our graduate school experts have been kind enough to provide some successful grad school personal statement examples. We’ll provide three examples here, along with brief analysis of what makes each one successful.

Sample Personal Statement for Graduate School 1

PDF of Sample Personal Statement 1 – Japanese Studies

For this Japanese Studies master’s degree, the applicant had to provide a statement of purpose outlining her academic goals and experience with Japanese and a separate personal statement describing her personal relationship with Japanese Studies and what led her to pursue a master’s degree.

Here’s what’s successful about this personal statement:

  • An attention-grabbing beginning: The applicant begins with the statement that Japanese has never come easily to her and that it’s a brutal language to learn. Seeing as how this is an application for a Japanese Studies program, this is an intriguing beginning that makes the reader want to keep going.
  • A compelling narrative: From this attention-grabbing beginning, the applicant builds a well-structured and dramatic narrative tracking her engagement with the Japanese language over time. The clear turning point is her experience studying abroad, leading to a resolution in which she has clarity about her plans. Seeing as how the applicant wants to be a translator of Japanese literature, the tight narrative structure here is a great way to show her writing skills.
  • Specific examples that show important traits: The applicant clearly communicates both a deep passion for Japanese through examples of her continued engagement with Japanese and her determination and work ethic by highlighting the challenges she’s faced (and overcome) in her study of the language. This gives the impression that she is an engaged and dedicated student.

Overall, this is a very strong statement both in terms of style and content. It flows well, is memorable, and communicates that the applicant would make the most of the graduate school experience.

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Sample Personal Statement for Graduate School 2

PDF of Sample Graduate School Personal Statement 2 – Musical Composition

This personal statement for a Music Composition master’s degree discusses the factors that motivate the applicant to pursue graduate study.

Here’s what works well in this statement:

  • The applicant provides two clear reasons motivating the student to pursue graduate study: her experiences with music growing up, and her family’s musical history. She then supports those two reasons with examples and analysis.
  • The description of her ancestors’ engagement with music is very compelling and memorable. The applicant paints her own involvement with music as almost inevitable based on her family’s long history with musical pursuits.
  • The applicant gives thoughtful analysis of the advantages she has been afforded that have allowed her to study music so extensively. We get the sense that she is insightful and empathetic—qualities that would add greatly to any academic community.

This is a strong, serviceable personal statement. And in truth, given that this for a masters in music composition, other elements of the application (like work samples) are probably the most important.  However, here are two small changes I would make to improve it:

  • I would probably to split the massive second paragraph into 2-3 separate paragraphs. I might use one paragraph to orient the reader to the family’s musical history, one paragraph to discuss Giacomo and Antonio, and one paragraph to discuss how the family has influenced the applicant. As it stands, it’s a little unwieldy and the second paragraph doesn’t have a super-clear focus even though it’s all loosely related to the applicant’s family history with music.
  • I would also slightly shorten the anecdote about the applicant’s ancestors and expand more on how this family history has motivated the applicant’s interest in music. In what specific ways has her ancestors’ perseverance inspired her? Did she think about them during hard practice sessions? Is she interested in composing music in a style they might have played? More specific examples here would lend greater depth and clarity to the statement.

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Sample Personal Statement for Graduate School 3

PDF of Sample Graduate School Personal Statement 3 – Public Health

This is my successful personal statement for Columbia’s Master’s program in Public Health. We’ll do a deep dive on this statement paragraph-by-paragraph in the next section, but I’ll highlight a couple of things that work in this statement here:

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  • This statement is clearly organized. Almost every paragraph has a distinct focus and message, and when I move on to a new idea, I move on to a new paragraph with a logical transitions.
  • This statement covers a lot of ground in a pretty short space. I discuss my family history, my goals, my educational background, and my professional background. But because the paragraphs are organized and I use specific examples, it doesn’t feel too vague or scattered.
  • In addition to including information about my personal motivations, like my family, I also include some analysis about tailoring health interventions with my example of the Zande. This is a good way to show off what kinds of insights I might bring to the program based on my academic background.

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Grad School Personal Statement Example: Deep Dive

Now let’s do a deep dive, paragraph-by-paragraph, on one of these sample graduate school personal statements. We’ll use my personal statement that I used when I applied to Columbia’s public health program.

Paragraph One: For twenty-three years, my grandmother (a Veterinarian and an Epidemiologist) ran the Communicable Disease Department of a mid-sized urban public health department. The stories of Grandma Betty doggedly tracking down the named sexual partners of the infected are part of our family lore. Grandma Betty would persuade people to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases, encourage safer sexual practices, document the spread of infection and strive to contain and prevent it. Indeed, due to the large gay population in the city where she worked, Grandma Betty was at the forefront of the AIDS crises, and her analysis contributed greatly towards understanding how the disease was contracted and spread. My grandmother has always been a huge inspiration to me, and the reason why a career in public health was always on my radar.

This is an attention-grabbing opening anecdote that avoids most of the usual cliches about childhood dreams and proclivities. This story also subtly shows that I have a sense of public health history, given the significance of the AIDs crisis for public health as a field.

It’s good that I connect this family history to my own interests. However, if I were to revise this paragraph again, I might cut down on some of the detail because when it comes down to it, this story isn’t really about me. It’s important that even (sparingly used) anecdotes about other people ultimately reveal something about you in a personal statement.

Paragraph Two: Recent years have cemented that interest. In January 2012, my parents adopted my little brother Fred from China. Doctors in America subsequently diagnosed Fred with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). My parents were told that if Fred’s condition had been discovered in China, the (very poor) orphanage in which he spent the first 8+ years of his life would have recognized his DMD as a death sentence and denied him sustenance to hasten his demise.

Here’s another compelling anecdote to help explain my interest in public health. This is an appropriately personal detail for a personal statement—it’s a serious thing about my immediate family, but it doesn’t disclose anything that the admissions committee might find concerning or inappropriate.

If I were to take another pass through this paragraph, the main thing I would change is the last phrase. “Denied him sustenance to hasten his demise” is a little flowery. “Denied him food to hasten his death” is actually more powerful because it’s clearer and more direct.

Paragraph Three: It is not right that some people have access to the best doctors and treatment while others have no medical care. I want to pursue an MPH in Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia because studying social factors in health, with a particular focus on socio-health inequities, will prepare me to address these inequities. The interdisciplinary approach of the program appeals to me greatly as I believe interdisciplinary approaches are the most effective way to develop meaningful solutions to complex problems.

In this paragraph I make a neat and clear transition from discussing what sparked my interest in public health and health equity to what I am interested in about Columbia specifically: the interdisciplinary focus of the program, and how that focus will prepare me to solve complex health problems. This paragraph also serves as a good pivot point to start discussing my academic and professional background.

Paragraph Four: My undergraduate education has prepared me well for my chosen career. Understanding the underlying structure of a group’s culture is essential to successfully communicating with the group. In studying folklore and mythology, I’ve learned how to parse the unspoken structures of folk groups, and how those structures can be used to build bridges of understanding. For example, in a culture where most illnesses are believed to be caused by witchcraft, as is the case for the Zande people of central Africa, any successful health intervention or education program would of necessity take into account their very real belief in witchcraft.

In this paragraph, I link my undergraduate education and the skills I learned there to public health. The (very brief) analysis of tailoring health interventions to the Zande is a good way to show insight and show off the competencies I would bring to the program.

Paragraph Five: I now work in the healthcare industry for one of the largest providers of health benefits in the world. In addition to reigniting my passion for data and quantitative analytics, working for this company has immersed me in the business side of healthcare, a critical component of public health.

This brief paragraph highlights my relevant work experience in the healthcare industry. It also allows me to mention my work with data and quantitative analytics, which isn’t necessarily obvious from my academic background, which was primarily based in the social sciences.

Paragraph Six: I intend to pursue a PhD in order to become an expert in how social factors affect health, particularly as related to gender and sexuality. I intend to pursue a certificate in Sexuality, Sexual Health, and Reproduction. Working together with other experts to create effective interventions across cultures and societies, I want to help transform health landscapes both in America and abroad.

This final paragraph is about my future plans and intentions. Unfortunately, it’s a little disjointed, primarily because I discuss goals of pursuing a PhD before I talk about what certificate I want to pursue within the MPH program! Switching those two sentences and discussing my certificate goals within the MPH and then mentioning my PhD plans would make a lot more sense.

I also start two sentences in a row with “I intend,” which is repetitive.

The final sentence is a little bit generic; I might tailor it to specifically discuss a gender and sexual health issue, since that is the primary area of interest I’ve identified.

This was a successful personal statement; I got into (and attended!) the program. It has strong examples, clear organization, and outlines what interests me about the program (its interdisciplinary focus) and what competencies I would bring (a background in cultural analysis and experience with the business side of healthcare). However, a few slight tweaks would elevate this statement to the next level.

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Graduate School Personal Statement Examples You Can Find Online

So you need more samples for your personal statement for graduate school? Examples are everywhere on the internet, but they aren’t all of equal quality.

Most of examples are posted as part of writing guides published online by educational institutions. We’ve rounded up some of the best ones here if you are looking for more personal statement examples for graduate school.

Penn State Personal Statement Examples for Graduate School

This selection of ten short personal statements for graduate school and fellowship programs offers an interesting mix of approaches. Some focus more on personal adversity while others focus more closely on professional work within the field.

The writing in some of these statements is a little dry, and most deploy at least a few cliches. However, these are generally strong, serviceable statements that communicate clearly why the student is interested in the field, their skills and competencies, and what about the specific program appeals to them.

Cal State Sample Graduate School Personal Statements

These are good examples of personal statements for graduate school where students deploy lots of very vivid imagery and illustrative anecdotes of life experiences. There are also helpful comments about what works in each of these essays.

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However, all of these statements are definitely pushing the boundaries of acceptable length, as all are above 1000 and one is almost 1500 words! Many programs limit you to 500 words; if you don’t have a limit, you should try to keep it to two single-spaced pages at most (which is about 1000 words).

University of Chicago Personal Statement for Graduate School Examples

These examples of successful essays to the University of Chicago law school cover a wide range of life experiences and topics. The writing in all is very vivid, and all communicate clear messages about the students’ strengths and competencies.

Note, however, that these are all essays that specifically worked for University of Chicago law school. That does not mean that they would work everywhere. In fact, one major thing to note is that many of these responses, while well-written and vivid, barely address the students’ interest in law school at all! This is something that might not work well for most graduate programs.

Wheaton College Personal Statement for Graduate School Sample 10

This successful essay for law school from a Wheaton College undergraduate does a great job tracking the student’s interest in the law in a compelling and personal way. Wheaton offers other graduate school personal statement examples, but this one offers the most persuasive case for the students’ competencies. The student accomplishes this by using clear, well-elaborated examples, showing strong and vivid writing, and highlighting positive qualities like an interest in justice and empathy without seeming grandiose or out of touch.

Wheaton College Personal Statement for Graduate School Sample 1

Based on the background information provided at the bottom of the essay, this essay was apparently successful for this applicant. However, I’ve actually included this essay because it demonstrates an extremely risky approach. While this personal statement is strikingly written and the story is very memorable, it could definitely communicate the wrong message to some admissions committees. The student’s decision not to report the drill sergeant may read incredibly poorly to some admissions committees. They may wonder if the student’s failure to report the sergeant’s violence will ultimately expose more soldiers-in-training to the same kinds of abuses. This incident perhaps reads especially poorly in light of the fact that the military has such a notable problem with violence against women being covered up and otherwise mishandled

It’s actually hard to get a complete picture of the student’s true motivations from this essay, and what we have might raise real questions about the student’s character to some admissions committees. This student took a risk and it paid off, but it could have just as easily backfired spectacularly.

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Key Takeaways: Graduate School Personal Statement Examples

In this guide, we discussed why you need a personal statement and how it differs from a statement of purpose. (It’s more personal!)

We also discussed what you’ll find in a strong sample personal statement for graduate school:

  • A clear narrative about the applicant and why they are qualified for graduate study.
  • Specific examples to support that narrative.
  • Compelling reasons why the applicant and the program are a good fit for each other.
  • Strong writing, including clear organization and error-free, cliche-free language.
  • Appropriate boundaries—sharing without over-sharing.

Then, we provided three strong graduate school personal statement examples for different fields, along with analysis. We did a deep-dive on the third statement.

Finally, we provided a list of other sample grad school personal statements online.

What’s Next?

Want more advice on writing a personal statement ? See our guide.

Writing a graduate school statement of purpose? See our statement of purpose samples  and a nine-step process for writing the best statement of purpose possible .

If you’re writing a graduate school CV or resume, see our how-to guide to writing a CV , a how-to guide to writing a resume , our list of sample resumes and CVs , resume and CV templates , and a special guide for writing resume objectives .

Need stellar graduate school recommendation letters ? See our guide.

See our 29 tips for successfully applying to graduate school .

Ready to improve your GRE score by 7 points?

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Author: Ellen McCammon

Ellen is a public health graduate student and education expert. She has extensive experience mentoring students of all ages to reach their goals and in-depth knowledge on a variety of health topics. View all posts by Ellen McCammon

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How to Write a Research Paper | A Beginner's Guide

A research paper is a piece of academic writing that provides analysis, interpretation, and argument based on in-depth independent research.

Research papers are similar to academic essays , but they are usually longer and more detailed assignments, designed to assess not only your writing skills but also your skills in scholarly research. Writing a research paper requires you to demonstrate a strong knowledge of your topic, engage with a variety of sources, and make an original contribution to the debate.

This step-by-step guide takes you through the entire writing process, from understanding your assignment to proofreading your final draft.

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Table of contents

Understand the assignment, choose a research paper topic, conduct preliminary research, develop a thesis statement, create a research paper outline, write a first draft of the research paper, write the introduction, write a compelling body of text, write the conclusion, the second draft, the revision process, research paper checklist, free lecture slides.

Completing a research paper successfully means accomplishing the specific tasks set out for you. Before you start, make sure you thoroughly understanding the assignment task sheet:

  • Read it carefully, looking for anything confusing you might need to clarify with your professor.
  • Identify the assignment goal, deadline, length specifications, formatting, and submission method.
  • Make a bulleted list of the key points, then go back and cross completed items off as you’re writing.

Carefully consider your timeframe and word limit: be realistic, and plan enough time to research, write, and edit.

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how to write a graduate student paper

There are many ways to generate an idea for a research paper, from brainstorming with pen and paper to talking it through with a fellow student or professor.

You can try free writing, which involves taking a broad topic and writing continuously for two or three minutes to identify absolutely anything relevant that could be interesting.

You can also gain inspiration from other research. The discussion or recommendations sections of research papers often include ideas for other specific topics that require further examination.

Once you have a broad subject area, narrow it down to choose a topic that interests you, m eets the criteria of your assignment, and i s possible to research. Aim for ideas that are both original and specific:

  • A paper following the chronology of World War II would not be original or specific enough.
  • A paper on the experience of Danish citizens living close to the German border during World War II would be specific and could be original enough.

Note any discussions that seem important to the topic, and try to find an issue that you can focus your paper around. Use a variety of sources , including journals, books, and reliable websites, to ensure you do not miss anything glaring.

Do not only verify the ideas you have in mind, but look for sources that contradict your point of view.

  • Is there anything people seem to overlook in the sources you research?
  • Are there any heated debates you can address?
  • Do you have a unique take on your topic?
  • Have there been some recent developments that build on the extant research?

In this stage, you might find it helpful to formulate some research questions to help guide you. To write research questions, try to finish the following sentence: “I want to know how/what/why…”

A thesis statement is a statement of your central argument — it establishes the purpose and position of your paper. If you started with a research question, the thesis statement should answer it. It should also show what evidence and reasoning you’ll use to support that answer.

The thesis statement should be concise, contentious, and coherent. That means it should briefly summarize your argument in a sentence or two, make a claim that requires further evidence or analysis, and make a coherent point that relates to every part of the paper.

You will probably revise and refine the thesis statement as you do more research, but it can serve as a guide throughout the writing process. Every paragraph should aim to support and develop this central claim.

A research paper outline is essentially a list of the key topics, arguments, and evidence you want to include, divided into sections with headings so that you know roughly what the paper will look like before you start writing.

A structure outline can help make the writing process much more efficient, so it’s worth dedicating some time to create one.

Your first draft won’t be perfect — you can polish later on. Your priorities at this stage are as follows:

  • Maintaining forward momentum — write now, perfect later.
  • Paying attention to clear organization and logical ordering of paragraphs and sentences, which will help when you come to the second draft.
  • Expressing your ideas as clearly as possible, so you know what you were trying to say when you come back to the text.

You do not need to start by writing the introduction. Begin where it feels most natural for you — some prefer to finish the most difficult sections first, while others choose to start with the easiest part. If you created an outline, use it as a map while you work.

Do not delete large sections of text. If you begin to dislike something you have written or find it doesn’t quite fit, move it to a different document, but don’t lose it completely — you never know if it might come in useful later.

Paragraph structure

Paragraphs are the basic building blocks of research papers. Each one should focus on a single claim or idea that helps to establish the overall argument or purpose of the paper.

Example paragraph

George Orwell’s 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language” has had an enduring impact on thought about the relationship between politics and language. This impact is particularly obvious in light of the various critical review articles that have recently referenced the essay. For example, consider Mark Falcoff’s 2009 article in The National Review Online, “The Perversion of Language; or, Orwell Revisited,” in which he analyzes several common words (“activist,” “civil-rights leader,” “diversity,” and more). Falcoff’s close analysis of the ambiguity built into political language intentionally mirrors Orwell’s own point-by-point analysis of the political language of his day. Even 63 years after its publication, Orwell’s essay is emulated by contemporary thinkers.

Citing sources

It’s also important to keep track of citations at this stage to avoid accidental plagiarism . Each time you use a source, make sure to take note of where the information came from.

You can use our free citation generators to automatically create citations and save your reference list as you go.

APA Citation Generator MLA Citation Generator

The research paper introduction should address three questions: What, why, and how? After finishing the introduction, the reader should know what the paper is about, why it is worth reading, and how you’ll build your arguments.

What? Be specific about the topic of the paper, introduce the background, and define key terms or concepts.

Why? This is the most important, but also the most difficult, part of the introduction. Try to provide brief answers to the following questions: What new material or insight are you offering? What important issues does your essay help define or answer?

How? To let the reader know what to expect from the rest of the paper, the introduction should include a “map” of what will be discussed, briefly presenting the key elements of the paper in chronological order.

The major struggle faced by most writers is how to organize the information presented in the paper, which is one reason an outline is so useful. However, remember that the outline is only a guide and, when writing, you can be flexible with the order in which the information and arguments are presented.

One way to stay on track is to use your thesis statement and topic sentences . Check:

  • topic sentences against the thesis statement;
  • topic sentences against each other, for similarities and logical ordering;
  • and each sentence against the topic sentence of that paragraph.

Be aware of paragraphs that seem to cover the same things. If two paragraphs discuss something similar, they must approach that topic in different ways. Aim to create smooth transitions between sentences, paragraphs, and sections.

The research paper conclusion is designed to help your reader out of the paper’s argument, giving them a sense of finality.

Trace the course of the paper, emphasizing how it all comes together to prove your thesis statement. Give the paper a sense of finality by making sure the reader understands how you’ve settled the issues raised in the introduction.

You might also discuss the more general consequences of the argument, outline what the paper offers to future students of the topic, and suggest any questions the paper’s argument raises but cannot or does not try to answer.

You should not :

  • Offer new arguments or essential information
  • Take up any more space than necessary
  • Begin with stock phrases that signal you are ending the paper (e.g. “In conclusion”)

There are four main considerations when it comes to the second draft.

  • Check how your vision of the paper lines up with the first draft and, more importantly, that your paper still answers the assignment.
  • Identify any assumptions that might require (more substantial) justification, keeping your reader’s perspective foremost in mind. Remove these points if you cannot substantiate them further.
  • Be open to rearranging your ideas. Check whether any sections feel out of place and whether your ideas could be better organized.
  • If you find that old ideas do not fit as well as you anticipated, you should cut them out or condense them. You might also find that new and well-suited ideas occurred to you during the writing of the first draft — now is the time to make them part of the paper.

The goal during the revision and proofreading process is to ensure you have completed all the necessary tasks and that the paper is as well-articulated as possible. You can speed up the proofreading process by using the AI proofreader .

Global concerns

  • Confirm that your paper completes every task specified in your assignment sheet.
  • Check for logical organization and flow of paragraphs.
  • Check paragraphs against the introduction and thesis statement.

Fine-grained details

Check the content of each paragraph, making sure that:

  • each sentence helps support the topic sentence.
  • no unnecessary or irrelevant information is present.
  • all technical terms your audience might not know are identified.

Next, think about sentence structure , grammatical errors, and formatting . Check that you have correctly used transition words and phrases to show the connections between your ideas. Look for typos, cut unnecessary words, and check for consistency in aspects such as heading formatting and spellings .

Finally, you need to make sure your paper is correctly formatted according to the rules of the citation style you are using. For example, you might need to include an MLA heading  or create an APA title page .

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Checklist: Research paper

I have followed all instructions in the assignment sheet.

My introduction presents my topic in an engaging way and provides necessary background information.

My introduction presents a clear, focused research problem and/or thesis statement .

My paper is logically organized using paragraphs and (if relevant) section headings .

Each paragraph is clearly focused on one central idea, expressed in a clear topic sentence .

Each paragraph is relevant to my research problem or thesis statement.

I have used appropriate transitions  to clarify the connections between sections, paragraphs, and sentences.

My conclusion provides a concise answer to the research question or emphasizes how the thesis has been supported.

My conclusion shows how my research has contributed to knowledge or understanding of my topic.

My conclusion does not present any new points or information essential to my argument.

I have provided an in-text citation every time I refer to ideas or information from a source.

I have included a reference list at the end of my paper, consistently formatted according to a specific citation style .

I have thoroughly revised my paper and addressed any feedback from my professor or supervisor.

I have followed all formatting guidelines (page numbers, headers, spacing, etc.).

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